Third Shift Companion
Mommy gave me my name. When I asked about it, she told me “Alberta is the name
of a princess. It means wise and graceful.” Well, nobody but Mommy ever called me
Alberta. To everybody else up in Happy Holler, I was just Bertie.
If Mommy dreamed I would become a princess, it didn’t happen. I reckon I’m smart
enough, but I’ve never been what might be seen as wise, and I’m not even sure what
graceful is. But my life has been okay, except for some rough patches, like the one I’m
You see, I don’t know where I’m at. All I can tell you is it’s a big house that puts me
in mind of the palaces I’ve seen in picture books. This wondering if I’m in a palace is
what made me think of Mommy naming me Alberta.
There are a bunch of old people here. I’ve never seen any of them before, and from
the way they act, I’m don’t want to be friends. Besides, I’ve got to find Willie again.
Willie is my husband. Since we got here, I’ve seen him once. He was standing in a
door to one of the many rooms in this place. My heart started racing. I hurried to him
and took his hand. He gave me an odd look and seemed not to able to place me. But I
led him into the room and helped him into to a bed.
No sooner had I snuggIed up to Willie, than through the door came some servants.
Now, I’m not real sure they were servants. They looked more like nurses, but I don’t’
believe nurses work in palaces.
There were two of them, a boy and a girl snickering as if something was funny. They
came over to the bed and the boy asked, “Bertie what are you doing in here?” Then
both of them started rolling me away from Willie and out of the bed.
Boy, I got hot. I hollered for Willie to help me, but he just lay there staring at a wall. I
fought back. I kicked. I slapped. I scratched with my nails. I grabbed hair. I grabbed
clothes. I cussed. I screamed. I spit. But they won.
They took me to a room. I was too wore out to fight anymore, so I let them put me
into a bed. After they pulled the covers up, turned out the lights, and left, I got up and
went looking for Willie. I haven’t found him again, but I keep looking.
These servants may look like nurses but they act more like the law. I went into what
seemed to be a store. On a table were all these pretty things. I sprayed on some
perfume, picked out some ear rings and a necklace. Wouldn’t you know it, as I was
leaving a big woman servant stopped me. She took away my things and scolded,
“Those aren’t yours. You’ve got to stop going into other people’s rooms and taking their
So I do my best to stay away from these servants, but they’re all the time trying to
give me pills to swallow or to get me to do things I don’t want to do. So I sometimes
eavesdrop on them to find out what they’re up to.
I heard the woman boss servant tell another woman, “Time is no longer a part of her
reality. The numbers on those three watches she wears look like squiggles to her. It’s so
This other woman says she’s my daughter. But I don’t believe her, I can’t recall ever
having a daughter. She told the boss servant, “I didn’t know. I thought her watches were
just part of one of the getups she puts on. She cared so much about her appearance.”
The boss servant shook her head like she agreed, and the daughter women went on,
“Since Daddy died, it’s been so trying. She used to keep her house spotless. But no
matter what I said or did, it became a messy, dirty place that I dreaded. She had it hot
as an oven in there. It felt like going into Death Valley.”
Both of them got quiet. Then the daughter woman took a deep breath and said, “It
became impossible to get Mom on the phone. I’ve seen her confused, not knowing what
to do when the phone rang. She constantly lost the portable phone I bought her. I’d find
it in the refrigerator, or the front porch swing, or a coat pocket.”
She seemed to be through, but then went back to talking, “I had to take her car keys
from her. She would drive into oncoming traffic and not stop at intersections. There
were some real close calls. Once she left her car in neutral and it rolled back into a tree.
She didn’t notice and couldn’t tell me what happened. I also had to give her Pekinese to
a neighbor because she would forget to feed him. She loved that little dog, but didn’t
even ask about him.”
She stopped like she was worn out. The boss servant said, “What you’ve described
is quite common. I’m so sorry.”
The daughter woman heaved and said, “The person I loved is gone, and she’s not
coming back. She doesn’t even know who I am.”
The boss servant nodded like this was true. I’ve got to ask Willie about all this.
There is one of these servants I do feel partial to. He’s a good-looking boy who calls
me his third shift companion. I’m pretty sure he means the hoot-owl shift, but I can’t
figure out what a companion is.
Right now, I see him standing at the door looking in. But I don’t pay no attention. I’ve
got company. My sister is here. I tell her “Take your coat off and stay awhile.”
She just stands there. I say louder, “Don’t you hear me? I said, take your coat off and
The good-looking boy servant comes in and asks, “Who you talking to Birdie?”
“My sister, don’t you see her?”
“You’re looking in a mirror at yourself Birdie.”
I point to the woman in front of me and say “That woman right there’s my sister.
Make her listen to me.”
The boy servant gets hold of my arms and turns me away from my sister. I take
a step and look back to tell her bye, but she’s gone. He leads me to a bed. I get in and
he takes off my shoes. I lay down and close my eyes like I’m going to sleep. He turns
out the lights and shuts the door.
I’ve got plenty of clothes on, so I get up, but I can’t find my shoes. In my sock feet, I
feel my way to the door. I bump into things and knock something over. I finally get the
door open. Then I stop. Outside the door, there’s what looks to be a puddle of muddy
water. I can’t tell how deep it, so I take a big step and make it across.
I go down a long hall looking for Willie. I see a bright light and go toward it. It’s
coming from what could be a kitchen. I peek in and see the good looking boy servant
and another servant at a table drinking out of cups. The good looking boy servant says,
“It’s more than Sundowner’s Syndrome, that’s the fourth time I’ve put her in bed tonight.
She seems to never sleep.” He sounds bothered with somebody. I wonder who it is.
I’ve got to find Willie.